Friday last saw the launch of the first annual ‘Ablevision Ireland International Film Festival’ and ‘The Rory Staunton Memorial Award’ in Drogheda. Over 20 films were entered into a competition on the theme of disability and integration. 6 of these were short listed and these came from the UK, Boston and Ireland. The winning entry was from S.O.S Kilkenny for the film ‘Earn It.’

As the name suggests, ‘Earn It’ is about earning respect for those with disabilities. The central character is faced with conflicting emotions on both the right and wrong route to gaining respect and indeed although the wrong route is much easier he opts for the right one in the end. It reflects the life of Rory Staunton who always had a keen sense of social justice.

Rory passed away at age 12 in April 2012 after being misdiagnosed at NYU Langone hospital in Manhattan. He had led the fight in his school to end use of the word “retard.”

The launch of the Rory Staunton Memorial Award started off the evening at 6 o’clock in the Drogheda Arts Centre. MC for the night was Orlaith Carmody, former RTE journalist and a prominent media spokesperson. Prior to this was a short reception in which the excitement of the atmosphere was strongly felt as the crowds arrived. The event was sponsored by Aer Lingus.

Orlaith introduced and gave an overview of the six finalist films before showing them. After seeing these films which touched on themes of respect and integration there was a difference in the atmosphere felt within the room, which for me as an onlooker, was one of solidarity, no longer was it ability and disability, us and them. We were all together sharing common problems.

Alisa Carbonne an ‘Ablevision’ Boston representative travelled over to Ireland for the launch and spoke about the common themes that cross national boundaries.

Ablevision Ireland’s film ‘Joe and Sarah’ was premiered for the first time to the anticipatiation and delight of all those involved. The film was centred on a love story between two adults with Down syndrome who decide to run away together when their parents disagree with them dating and indeed had a happy ending with the buying of their own apartment, much to the distress of the girl’s father! The film was written by the Ablevision crew and directed by Frank Kelly and completed within a timeframe of six weeks.

The various different groups were sitting at the edge of their seats awaiting results of the ‘Rory Staunton Memorial Award’ competition by the time Rory’s uncle ‘Minister of State’ Fergus O’Dowd took to the stand to announce the results. Fergus read from a letter from Judy A. Dorn Regional Director of Special Olympics New York in which she wrote about Rory.   ‘Embodied is his very being was an innate moral compass that compelled him to champion the rights of those less privileged financially, physically, mentally and emotionally.’ This was certainly true of Rory’s character as he took on the Special Olympics New York campaign entitled "Spread the Word to End the Word" to his school and community at just 9 ½ years of age.

The award presented to the delighted winning group was centred on an old Irish folklore tale ‘The Children of Lir’ originating in Co. Mayo, the home of Rory’s father Ciaran Staunton and a place where he felt strongly about revisiting his cousins every summer when he returned home to Ireland.

On the top of the statue is a swan which is indicative of Rory’s interest in flying and his dream of becoming a pilot. One of Rory’s first cousins Ronan Staunton from Mayo who was there on the night mentioned seeing Rory’s picture on the widescreen during the memorial award ceremony as being a somewhat surreal moment in which he had to pinch himself just to remind himself that Rory was no longer there in the room.

The values of what he stood for certainly were present within the room though and leaving the building there was strong sense of togetherness. A number of visitors on the night noted that the Film Festival highlighted issues of intellectual disability that they were unaware of. Rory, we know, was already aware of this world.

A series of workshops on film making by Frank Kelly, a Drogheda born script writer, also ran throughout the day for students involved in media modules to showcase their work.

Kathleen Staunton, Rory Staunton and Alana O’Dowd at the end of January, 2012, at the United Irish Counties dinner in QueensMargaret Purcell